Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Article in the Diplomat about stigma against HIV/AIDS in Korea


Another worthwhile article on this topic by John Power can be found here.

Original Post:

Last week The Diplomat published an article by Dave Hazzan subtitled "Stigmas against homosexuality and HIV/AIDS combine to keep patients isolated."
Widely assumed to be a “gay disease,” even by some of the country’s most influential doctors, AIDS patients are often disowned by family, thrown out of hospitals, and refused vital care. Many foreign residents face mandatory HIV testing, and are deported if found to be HIV-positive – despite government assurances to the UN that such tests ended years ago. Koreans have little understanding of the disease, and in a recent survey most said it would be difficult to get along with a neighbor who is HIV+.

“It isn’t hard to find a doctor, because Korea is a top country for medical treatment,” says Son Moonsoo, the president of the organization Korean People Living with HIV/AIDS (KNP+). “Korea has plenty of medicine and medical practitioners. But it’s only for healthy HIV patients. For people have developed into full-blown AIDS, who need to stay in [a long-term facility] there is nowhere for them to stay.”

Further, patients who need non-AIDS related procedures – treatment for a broken hip, or even a dental cleaning – are routinely refused care when they reveal their HIV+ status.
The article rightly paints a dire picture of discrimination and human rights violations for Koreans who are HIV+ or who have full blown AIDS. The ROK also continues to portray itself to UNAIDS as a nation that does not test foreigners (as of 2015), which is certainly not true. It also acknowledged but otherwise ignored the UN CERD ruling on HIV testing for foreign teachers - let no one say that ROK does not also attempt to defend its sovereignty as vigorously as its brethren state to the north!

This paragraph struck me as being somewhat misleading, however:
AIDS being viewed as a foreign evil is most obvious with the mandatory testing of certain foreigners in Korea. During the 1988 Seoul Olympics, activists held demonstrations to demand HIV testing of all foreign visitors, and the press erupted in a sexual panic, urging Koreans not to have sexual relations with foreigners. But no testing was required. It was only in 2007 that foreign English teachers in Korea were required to undergo mandatory HIV testing. 
This makes it seem as if there was no testing of foreigners until 2007, but as pointed out here, testing for what would become the E-6 visa began in 1989, while the Ministry of Labor decided that migrant workers under the Industrial Trainee System were to be tested for HIV immediately upon entering the country on August 9, 1994.

The article also makes the claim that "Not a single foreign teacher had been identified as HIV+ in Korean history," but this is not true, as this article from 2009 about native speaking teachers working in Gyeonggi-do reveals:
On October 1 [2008], during the hiring process, a female teacher at a middle school in Gapyeong was found to have caught HIV from her husband while in another country and was deported 9 days later.

Earlier this year, two native speakers at a middle school in Icheon and a middle school in Paju had their employment canceled when they tested positive for HIV during their health check.
As for the assertion that mandatory HIV tests "Tellingly...are not required of ethnic Koreans," I don't think that's necessarily true. While gyopos on F-4 visas are not subject to E-2 visa rules for HIV tests mandated by immigration, nor were HIV tests included in the 2011 amendment to the hagwon law which required drug tests for those on any visa working as native speaking instructors in language hagwons, public schools may mandate tests for anyone (including Korean citizens) working as a native speaking teacher, while those gyopos who do not have F-4 visas would be subject to the tests under the E-2 visa. What the public school tests reveal, in their requirement to test anyone - even Korean citizens - working as a native speaking teacher for drugs and HIV, is the belief that to speak English fluently one must have come into contact with actual native speakers enough to have possibly been "contaminated" by them, with women in particular being suspect since they may have learned "body language" from foreign males as well (and thus need to be tested). All of this goes to show that there is also a cultural component along with the racial component of Korean xenophobia regarding Westerners.

As for the idea that the HIV tests were introduced for foreign teachers for the purpose of "stigmatizing foreigners, especially men, who date Korean women, something that can offend the racial sensitivities of some more conservative Koreans," it should be pointed out that "conservative" in this case refers to social conservatism, and not political conservatism. On Anti English Spectrum's site is an html file documenting a very long chat between AES members two days after AES was established (in January 2005) in which they discuss how to proceed. I've read only a little of it, but near the beginning one member says that the solution to their problems would be reunification, which reflects the zeitgeist of the time but also suggests a more left-leaning political disposition. Many of AES's slogans reflected those of left-nationalists who led the anti-American charge in the late 1980s and 1990s. On the other hand, the source of those slogans, and the idea that the decadent culture of the west had to be held at bay lest it corrupt Korea, goes back much further, and was championed by none other than Park Chung-hee throughout his rule. In the 1980s HIV / AIDS became the perfect metaphor for western corruption, decadence, and moral failure, which may help to explain the endurance of the stigma decades later.


Dave Hazzan said...

Author of the article in question here.
Thanks for sharing and discussing the article, well appreciated. Regarding your points:
- I was unaware of the teachers who were deported that you mentioned; I find it odd that Wagner didn't mention this during our interview. In any event, it appears I made an error and it will be corrected in any future reposts of the article. Thanks and apologies.
- Apologies also for my error regarding mandatory testing of foreigners; I was unaware E-6's were undergoing testing as long ago as 1994. This will also be corrected in future reposts.
- Regarding the testing of Koreans. It's true some public schools test ethnic Koreans, though your assertion that even Korean citizens get tested is new to me, and certainly no one at Nanuri or KNP+ told me that. In any event, the question here is about the law, not the policies of individual schools. I suppose schools can do whatever they want in this regard, but the law, as far as I understand it, does not mandate any F-visas get HIV tests. Sure, an ethnic Korean under the E-2 would get tested, but the point is moot when there is a separate visa available for ethnic Koreans. I can't imagine too many ethnic Koreans opt for the added trouble of getting an E-2; certainly I've never met any.
- Finally, concepts of conservatism and progressivism in South Korea can seem odd to westerners, and it's true that racial nationalism is often a left-wing or progressive phenomenon in South Korean society. In my view, this is a terrible stain on left-wing politics in Korea, though in my experience, younger activists are moving away from it. In any event, discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of the article, but your point is well taken.
Thanks again for posting Matt, and I appreciate the feedback. Have a good one.
Dave Hazzan
Kuala Lumpur

matt said...

Hi Dave,
Thanks for the comment. I realize the conservative / progressive aspect was beyond the purview of the article - it mostly reminded me of a progressive commenter here years ago who kept insisting Anti English Spectrum were right wing.

There have been other teachers found with HIV, to be sure - I've come across other stories over the years, even back in the 1980s. The three in 2009 were just from the one report I could think of off the top of my head.

As for testing of F-4s and Korean citizens, I can't find info on the latter off hand, though I know I read it somewhere. F-4s were definitely tested at my orientation for SMOE in 2010 - everyone was (they brought Kyunghee University Hospital doctors and a mobile x-ray unit to the orientation site). These were decided by school boards, though, not individual schools, at least as far as I know.

And it would have been E-6s (or its precursor visa, for 'dancers and singers') tested in 1989, with Industrial Trainees tested from 1994. Illegal foreigners were also to be turn themselves in for testing if they wanted to avoid immediate deportation, according to a 1992 article I found.

Anonymous said...

The journalist should be commended on his bravery with this report. It's difficult to see this kind of investigative reporting in Korea where lawsuits are common and journos are timid. The fact that an anti-gay minister was running a AIDS hospice is unbelievable. How did this go unreported in all the previous articles on the government's closing of the facility?

-Ben Wagner